The Christmas break and the New Year seem to have been taken up primarily by some wonderful reading, courtesy of fantastic presents from assorted family members.
Right up there among the offerings was Bill Bryson’s latest: The Road to Little Dribbling. Now, this is not an unbiased review. I am a devoted Bryson reader, and usually have one or more of his books somewhere nearby. I would be starstruck and ask for his autograph AND curtsy if the opportunity presented.
The only possible exception is probably his book on Australia – Down Under – and I feel that may have been because that’s exactly where I am. It’s much more fun to have the vicarious travel bug scratched and indulge in a bit of other side of the world laughter, instead of rolling your eyes in local superiority and going ‘Does he even know where that is?!’
Bryson’s language is a shared one – he finds the overgrown footpath (‘a garden growing on concrete’), struggles up that hill – and yet he’s elevated his story telling to such a prowess that he can say to those of us turning to p. 60: ‘I had two weeks of very nice days and got to pretend it was work. That’s why I do this for a living.’ Oh, if only, say the rest of us, sitting in silent despair and admiration.
If you take the Road to Little Dribbling with Bryson, you’ll get to experience Cambridge and Max Perutz working out the structure of haemoglobin; Eisenhower’s wartime dwelling on the edge of Wimbledon Common; Staines Moor (‘One hundred and thirty species of birds and three hundred species of plants had been recorded here’ – naturally it was until recently under threat from a third Heathrow runway – what sort of idiots!?); Stonehenge and so much more besides.
Nominally, Bryson is echoing a tour of Britain he undertook twenty years ago, which became the delightful Notes from a Small Island. Bryson is also deliberately avoiding most of the places that he featured in that book, while hooking into a few for continuity’s sake – hi there, Dover! – and we are all the more spoilt for his efforts.
If you have a penchant for language zingers, and if you like being absorbed in a book to the extent that you forget what the time is, then any of Bryson’s books should suit you. I have only one complaint, and that is of my own making. I like books that will stay open when I’m doing craft work, and The Road to Little Dribbling is such a chunky volume (in passing, with a delightful dustjacket), that this is impossible. However, that is an ambition that I’m willing to forego for a virtual stroll in the New Forest with Bryson and friends.
I’d give this Christmas present of mine 9/10, with one mark taken off because I’m not the one on the road to Little Dribbling – and, unlike Bryson, I can be trusted to order succinctly in a McDonald’s!